Cherokee Cave

The Lost Caves of St. Louis


Useful Information

Location: Beneath the area of Broadway and I-55 in south St. Louis. I 55 to Broadway, follow that to Cherokee Street. Turn west on Cherokee one block and then right onto Demenil Place.
(38.592683, -90.214911)
Open: n/a
Fee: n/a
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave SubterraneaCellar ExplainLost Caves
Light: bring torch
Dimension: L=6.7 km.
Guided tours: n/a
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: (1964): Cherokee Cave, St. Louis, Missouri, Missouri Speleology, Volume VI, Number 3. July 1964.
(1964): Bats/Cherokee Cave, Missouri Speleology, Volume VI, Number 4. October 1964.
Hubert Rother, Charlotte Rother (1964): The Lost Caves of St. Louis,
J. Harlen Bretz (1956): Caves of Missouri, Missouri Geological Survey and Water Resources.
(2018): History of the Lemp Brewery Caverns & Cherokee Cave, Missouri Speleology, The Journal of the Missouri Speleological Survey, Volume 58, 2018, 53pp, 35 pictures, map. online
Address: n/a
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1840 William J. Lemp's Western Brewery founded by Adam Lemp.
1862 Adam Lemp died and his son William J. Lemp became the new owner.
1920 Lemp Brewery closed due to the prohibition.
1945 Lee Hess purchases the ground and makes the caves a tourist attraction.
1950 show cave opened to the public.
1961 purchased by the Missouri Highway department to clear the way for Interstate 55.
1964 museum and cave entrance were demolished and the cave was filled.

Description

The entire city of St. Louis is built upon a huge and complex system of natural caves, there were once 50 caves in the area. Most of them are closed to the public today or even filled in or purposely collapsed. A part of this huge system is Cherokee Cave, another Lemp Cave and Cliff Cave.

Cherokee Cave is a former beer cellar of William J. Lemp's Western Brewery. The name is a reference to the Cherokee Indians, which were known as cave living people. William J. Lemp's Western Brewery was the largest brewery in St. Louis at the end of the 19th century. It was founded by Adam Lemp, the original location was on Second Street near Elm. His son, William J. Lemp, built a new brewery at Cherokee and 13th Streets. A good reason for this site was Cherokee Cave, as it provided a natural cooling cellar for the beer. The brewery prospered and grew, and became one of two principal breweries in St. Louis and a major producer on a national scale. It seems, the Lemp family was a little eccentric. They used part of the caves by constructing a swimming pool, a ballroom and a vaudeville theater inside around 1880 or 1890. The brewery was electrified around 1880, while the city had no electricity until 1904. And so there was electric light underground. The brewery was closed by prohibition and never reopened. The mansion of the Lemp family is today a restaurant and hotel, right beneath the interstate, but has no access to the caves below anymore.

The caves also played a role in the Underground Railroad, the escape route for slaves before and during civil war. The tradition about Cherokee Cave describes many entrances and underground labyriths which were part of the Underground Railroad, the escape route for slaves before and during civil war. For example a tunnel behind the house at 3314 Lemp provided a secret entrance to Cherokee Cave. At least one entrance to Cherokee Cave was near the Mississippi River, where slaves could hope to escape to freedom in Illinois. Archaeological findings of man and animals make it even more interesting.

In 1945 Lee Hess, a rich pharmaceutical manufacturer purchased the ground above Cherokee Cave and the nearby Minnehaha Brewery. He developed the ground and the cave, building a car park and a museum, which was also entrance to the cave. He lived in the historic De Menil Mansion on the same ground. But being at least as eccentric as the Lemp family, he nearly lost his entire fortune in his attempt to develop the cave.

Today Cherokee Cave is closed, the original entrance and show cave is lost. The I55 was built and the entrance buildings were demolished and the cave filled in. Some rumours say the cave was completely filled in, other rumours say that some remains of the cave still exist beneath the De Menil Mansion but ar inaccessible. Actually the caves are still there, and were explored by the local cavers, according to their survey more than 6.7 km of formerly 7.3 km of cave and cellars still remain. However, much is lost, including an easy access. The brewery’s current owner, Shashi Palamand, is not keen on letting people in.